Half Dome by Night, With a Full Moon, Alone

This summer, unable to find a compadre, I decided to try half dome at dawn solo. Despite being nearly attacked by an imaginary mob of bears, it was the best nocturnal day hike ever.

I left the trail head at 1 AM and didn’t see another headlamp until the base of Nevada falls, an hour or so later. In that time I had convinced myself that all the black bears of the Yosemite valley, tired of twinkies and lunchables from the dumpster, were closing in around me. I gripped my pocket knife and planned all kinds of irrational, elaborate defense strategies and escape moves. Depending on my surroundings, these consisted of sprinting in the opposite direction, throwing large stones, and jumping off waterfalls.

Fortunately, I caught up to Jessica and Luise, two younger and slower hikers who were gracious enough to let me join them till I regained my composure and glimpsed the backside of half dome silhouetted against the moonlight. At that point I pressed on alone, inspired and determined to put at least two other people between me and the horde of bears. If they attacked from above, I would fight like a warlock dragon with tiger blood, and die honorably.

Half dome silhouette

Headlamps on half dome

Sunrise from half dome

Moonset from half dome

Sunrise from half dome

Half dome top cables

View from Nevada falls

Half dome

Planning for the Superior Hiking Trail

Superior lake from the SHTOne of the outdoor highlights of Minnesota is the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), a 300 mile footpath connecting Duluth and Canada along the shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota.

The trail has superior accessibility – just off the highway (MN-61), with parking every 5 to 10 miles. In some sections it gets a little too accessible – you may hear a chainsaw or someone riding their quad to the fruit stand, and the vistas may be obstructed by a water tower or a guy in a straw hat chasing squirrels with his pitchfork. But these distractions are part of the rural northern Minnesota experience and they’re well worth the convenience of free parking and free camping.

The SHT doesn’t excel in distributing good information about itself on the web. The Superior Hiking Trail Association website has some basic maps, with descriptions of each section and campsite. Otherwise, you might talk to the guy with the pitchfork. If it’s your first time, I recommend the Silver Bay section, which passes through Tettegouche State Park.

Here are three things to do before you go:

  1. Get a map. For about $6 you can get a pocket-sized spiral-bound version, printed on waterproof paper. The SHT handbook costs around $16.
  2. Check conditions. Given that it’s maintained by volunteers who also have other things to do, like make granola and weave things out of hemp, some sections need a little TLC. Call (218-834-2700) or email (hike-at-shta.org) to check on trail conditions, especially in the winter and spring.
  3. Research your campsite. Given that it’s free, campsite quality depends a lot on location – elevation, vegetation, hydration, etc. Higher, dryer, and sunnier typically mean more firewood, fewer mosquitoes, and better views.

The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes

Lifejacket promoThe best lake adventure in the Twin Cities for three reasons:

1. Diversity – There are all kinds of people of all ages paddling a variety of sea craft, including sailboats, rowboats, paddle boats, canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, surfboards, and old logs. A few turtles and egrets will show up as well, despite all the boat traffic.

Brownie Cedar tunnel2. Urban-ness – You’re basically downtown, surrounded by bike trails, houses, and roads. The kids (that includes me) were impressed by the different bridges and tunnels between the lakes. The section between Cedar and Lake of the Isles is one of a kind – with a shady canopy of trees, fields of lily pads, and an old wood train bridge that could fall at any moment.

3. Activities – Besides propelling yourself around the lakes, you can propel yourself around the paved lake trails, go fishing, have a picnic, or people-watch.

Kids in canoe        Kids in canoe

Here’s a Google map for all the local readers.

Raw Shampoo

baking soda shampoo emblemIf you find traces of white powder in our sink, don’t be alarmed. We’ve been brewing our own shampoo, or, as some would say, we’ve gone ‘poo-less.

The white powder is baking soda, the only ingredient in our homemade product besides water. And rather than brew it, all you do is stir the two together. I use about 1 part soda to 16 parts water, or 1 tbsp to 1 cup.

For people with shortish hair, I highly recommend it. For those with longish hair, the transition might be more difficult (i.e., more oily) as your head has to adjust to the sudden absence of detergents and other evil things. Whatever your hair length or type, it’s definitely worth trying. Here are a few reasons.

1. Saving Money

On average, I’m guessing that a 16-fluid-oz bottle of store-bought ‘poo costs around $4. For that price you can make 96 bottles of regular strength baking soda shampoo.

  • $1 = 3 cups of baking soda
  • 3 cups = 48 tbsp
  • 48 tbsp = 48 cups of soda shampoo
  • 48 cups = 384 fluid oz
  • 384 fluid oz = 24 bottles at 16 oz each

2. Packing

I only wash my hair two or three times a week, so I wont get rich off my store-bought ‘poo savings anytime soon. But it’s also nice on trips because all you’re packing is powder. It’s ultralight, portable, and minimalist. But expect delays going through security checkpoints.

3. Multi-use

Like duct tape, the applications are numberless. It’s good for hair hygiene, oral hygiene – as a horrible tasting toothpaste – and as an odor-eater.

4. Saving Plastic

Assuming the average United Statesian washes their hair every other day and gets 40 servings from a bottle, that comes to about 4.5 bottles per person, per year, or 1.35 billion bottles annually for our population of 300 million.

5. It Works

Honestly – I tried it because I’m cheap. But there’s a growing number of ‘poo-less baking soda advocates out there who present a convincing argument (e.g., here, here and here). People talk about chemicals and split ends and whatnot. They’re all women, to my knowledge, and they’re much more concerned and knowledgeable about hair than I am. So don’t just take my word for it.

The History of Shampoo

Apparently, regular old soap used to suffice for cleaning our mammalian cranial protein filaments, until hard water came along. Now, long story short, we’ve been enslaved by the conglomerates and corporations, brainwashed into thinking our hair needs exotic extracts, dew of the ginko leaf, and other secret compounds found in remote regions of the rain forest. Turns out all our hair needs is a pinch of leavening agent.

State Forest Campgrounds

Frog huntBack before the shut down of our state government and DNR, a huge crew of us dads and kids spent a night at Kruger campground, just off the Mississippi on the Zumbro river. With our uncoordinated efforts combined we probably had a hundred hot dogs and enough marshmallows to sculpt a life size Micheline man. As should always be the case when car camping, it was a veritable smorgasbord.

Campfire at KrugerAfter the food frenzy we went on a night hike in search of frogs and fireflies. Then, we spent a few hours around the campfire. The younger kids started getting delirious, begging for bed, around ten o’clock. The dads were spent, from chasing mallow-fueled children and from finishing off the hot dogs. My son and I pushed it to midnight – the last ones to hit the sack.

Anyway – here are three things about state forest campgrounds that make me a happy camper:

  1. The price is right – the going rate is $12 per night per non-reservable site. State parks range from $20 to $30.
  2. There’s more space – a site typically maxes out at 8 people in 2 tents, though we fit 18 people, 6 tents, in 2 sites and the ranger didn’t mind. State parks usually draw the line at 6 people, 1 tent.
  3. Fires are ablaze – you can gather wood, and it’s usually in abundance.

S'moreeseoKruger is one of many MN state forest campgrounds. The DNR refers to them as primitive, where only the basic needs are met – a picnic table, fire pit, tent pad, and toilets. Usually there’s access to potable water as well. Besides hotdogs and s’moreos, maybe a s’moreeseo or two, what more do you need?